“Top Chef All-Stars” Recap (8.03): Empire state of mind

Guest judge Chang goes to taste the results. He gives the Blue Team a “nice job,” breaking the cardinal rule of guest judging: reveal nothing. They lap up his praise accordingly. It’s almost sweet seeing them get excited about a two-word “atta boy” like that.

Padma comes to the Red Team and says, “Hello, ladies,” only to catch herself after the laughter breaks out and adds “I’m sorry, Dale.” Snort. Padma wins for soundbite of the week.

Chang names the Red and Green teams his least favorite, while his favorites were the Blue and White teams. There is a lesson in there, I think – something about a tortoise and a hare. The Blue Team wins, and each pocket $5,000, but no immunity.

The Elimination Challenge keeps the teams together, but this time they’ll be competing against their own teammates for best and worst dishes. Each group will dine at one of New York’s finest restaurants, and then cook a dish in the style of its executive chef. The Green Team pulls guest judge Chang’s French-Vietnamese fusion place Má Pêche. The Red Team pulls David Burke’s modern American eatery Townhouse. The Blue Team draws Michael White’s Italian spot Marea. Finally the White Team gets mad food scientist Wiley Dufresne’s molecular gastronomy joint wd~50.

Oh, and two of them will be sent packing at the end. Like I’ve said before, Top Chef will cut a bitch – possibly two.

The teams go out to dine at their respective spots. Tiffany calls Angelo and his non-stop blather “annoying” at Má Pêche. I knew there was a reason I liked Tiffany. At Marea, Tre calls Stephen “arrogant.” Ditto for Tre. Carla is, rightfully, terrified at wd~50 because if she couldn’t even sous vide steak, so how is she going to aerate fois gras? The Red (“Ladies”) Team at Townhouse gets treated to goldfish in their cocktail glasses (um, no one tell PETA) and some whimsical dishes much to Big Gay Dale’s delight.

Again, Bravo went all-out with this challenge. It’s not only a great showcase of each chef’s skill, but their creativity and adaptability. I mean, this is so much better than that vending machine challenge from a few seasons ago, I can’t even tell you.

Back at the house, Stephen thinks he has a great shot because Marea is all about suit-and-tie fine dining. He is saying this while in a suit and tie, you know, to lounge around the house. He says “fashion has become a major obsession of mine. It could be worse, it could be cocaine or heroin.” And sometimes, the two go hand-in hand. What? I saw Gia.

The chefs get working and the judges begin their rounds. Tom, Padma, Antohony Bourdain (yay, Tony), Food & Wine Restaurant Editor Kate Krader and the executive chef from each restaurant will judge the teams. Marea is first, and Stephen’s dish gets the Bourdain treatment immediate, saying “It tastes like a head shop.”

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